November 17, 2017  |  by Kursten Mitchell

Fall is falling, and for a lot of organizations and nonprofits, that means it’s also time to get your plan together for the coming fiscal year. Having your priorities and budget in order, your strategy defined, and your team informed, aligned and prepared before the end of the year will support positive momentum during your first quarter and thoughtful work throughout the next year. For both nonprofit marketing and for-profit communications plans, consistent visibility is key. Stagnation can mean not only lost opportunities to connect with clients or donors, but may also lead your clients and constituents into your competitors arms due to your lack of visibility. If you’re already deep into your planning cycle, congratulations! If you’re just getting started, here are a few planning guidelines to follow as you build your communications plan.

The Process

  • Prioritize. Define two to five goals for your organization for the coming year. Do you wish to expand to new markets? Attract a wider variety of donors? Increase advocacy for your organization? Make a list, keep it strategic, and prioritize.
  • Clarify Your Targeting. Ensure your current audience is who you think it is, and determine whether or not there’s opportunity to expand or refine your targeting. To get a better sense of your current audience, consider surveying your clients, patients or donors to learn more about their demographics, interests and needs. Web metrics, social media data, organic search data, and reviews of your products/services or organization are additional sources of information regarding your current engaged audience. If you are expanding your targeting, create personas based on market research. Define and profile your audience to ensure your organization is clear and agrees upon targeting.
  • Assess the Competition. Identify and evaluate your competitor’s public-facing communications, including their websites, social media channels and media coverage, at minimum. Note their messaging, leading narratives and content strategy, as well as their engagement level with their audience, and any information you can glean regarding targeting. Reviews of competitor products and services will also provide insight. Identify competitor strengths and weaknesses compared to your own. Additionally, consider where there are gaps between audience needs and interests and the information/engagement available via both yourself and the competition.
  • Stop. Start. Continue. Don’t fall into the trap of doing what you did last year, just because it’s what you’ve always done. As part of your planning process, review your metrics for the past 12 months, interview your team, consider your competition, and get a sense for what worked, what didn’t work, and what you might need to try in the coming year. Consider budget implications, assessing whether budget should be added or reduced in certain areas based on results.
  • Trends and Environmental Factors. Based on your own experience and/or supporting research, take note of trends affecting your space, including elements like technology, community sentiment, driving news trends, or other external factors that might impact audience perception of your organization or the manner in which they expect you to do business. For example, more and more, people expect businesses to give back to their community. If you run a business, this may mean it’s time to create a corporate giving program. If you are a non-profit, this may open new doors for you to seek corporate funding.

The Plan

With business priorities, targeting and historical performance assessment in hand, now it’s time to define your nonprofit marketing plan or for-profit communications strategy for the coming year. Your plan should articulate communications priorities as aligned to your overall strategic imperatives, including elements like the following:

  • Seasonal considerations for your business
  • Priority communication channels and content formats for communications (i.e. media, blog post, newsletter, social media post, etc.) based on your audience and the goals of your communications
  • Core narratives to be supported by communications (i.e. brand building, thought leadership)
  • Awareness, consideration and conversion vehicles needed to engage prospects
  • Cadence of communications
  • Programmatic needs (i.e. partnerships, cause marketing)
  • Proof needed to support your claims (i.e. awards, testimonials, reviews, references, rankings, media coverage)
  • KPIs that demonstrate the impact of communications activities

Additionally, evaluate whether tweaks (or overhaul) of your messaging or branding are required to improve connection to your audience(s) or to support expansion or refinement of your targeting. Start to plot out timing for your plan, and get ready to hit the ground running next year.

While creating a marketing plan requires an investment in time, your plan establishes guidance for integrated, goal-oriented marketing and communications activity. This tool will guide content development, campaign planning, and budget, and will ultimately lead to consistent multi-channel communications that pay dividends.